Are American Jews becoming more conservative? Will more Jews vote for Republicans in 2012 than ever before?
There is evidence to suggest the answer is yes, but only in a limited way.
According to a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the advantage Democrats had over Republicans when it comes to Jewish votes has declined 16 points since 2008. Keep in mind that Jewish support for Democrats is down 16 points from a 52-point advantage so we’re not talking about a tidal wave shift of Jewish votes from Democrats to Republicans. But on the other hand, Pew also shows a 9 percent increase among Jews identifying as Republican versus four years ago in 2008.
This fact was remarkable even to the researchers. “Jews are the only religious group where we actually see significant change and increase among the number of people identifying themselves as Republicans, not just leaning toward the GOP,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher for Pew.
OK, so there’s some data to suggest that Jews might be friendlier to the GOP in 2012 than in 2008. But statistics don’t offer a clear picture of what might be attracting some Jews to identify as Republicans. So to put a face on the phenomenon, meet Josh Mandel. He’s 34 years old, he’s Jewish, he’s a Marine, he’s an Iraq war veteran and he’s a Republican. Oh, and he may just end up the next U.S. senator from neighboring Ohio.
Mandel describes his passion for politics with positive conviction. “I’m the grandson of a Holocaust survivor who was liberated by Allied troops, and I’m the grandson of a U.S. Army Air Corps veteran, and these hard-working, gutsy men instilled in me a duty to community and a duty to country,” Mandel said.
Mandel is currently Ohio’s state treasurer and a big advocate of fiscal discipline and balanced budgets. He’s not one to spout off about social issues and has warned his party not to get diverted from the mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Mandel has risked his life defending the homeland and is now dedicated to strengthening the country by trying to get Washington to work better for all citizens. He’s also a big supporter of Israel and very concerned about Iran. So if Jews are supposedly natural allies of the Democratic Party, Mandel’s views and values must therefore be antithetical to Judaism. Which ones? Which of Mandel’s positions can’t be found among the great teachings that make up the backbone of our Jewish civilization — the Torah, the Talmud, the siddur.
The truth of the matter is that there is no inherent link between being Jewish and being a Democrat. If you really need Jewish justification for most any political position, you can find it. But who is looking? The Pew survey didn’t find that Jews were more religious than other groups; it just found that more of us vote for Democrats as a group than other religions. That may just be tradition or habit rather than conviction. But habits can be broken.
Promises can also be broken and that’s where the Obama administration has a problem with Jewish and non-Jewish voters alike. Three years have gone by since President Obama was elected and Iran is closer than ever to having the bomb. Obama came into office promoting engagement with Tehran. His adviser Dennis Ross and others wasted precious time in 2009 and 2010 trying to get Iran to negotiate and trying to convince all Americans that an outstretched hand to the mullahs was a more enlightened and effective approach. Then when talks went nowhere, the administration wasted more time delaying sanctions that Congress desperately wanted. And all the while, more and more uranium enrichment, more facilities uncovered, more technology shared between Russia and Iran, China and Iran, North Korea and Iran. Now, there is no longer any debate over whether the Iranians are building a nuke — it is only a question of when they will finish the job.
We are facing an Israeli-Iranian showdown and the Obama team spends its time criticizing Israel for hinting at a pre-emptive strike rather than threatening dire consequences if Iran proceeds with building a nuke. This is where we are and where we are is a very, very bad place.
Historically Jews have faithfully voted for Democrats, but when Democrats break faith with Jews, perhaps it is time to reinvent tradition.
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, blogs for the New York Post at www.nypost.com/blogs/capitol. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)